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How To Become A Surgeon


It takes nearly two decades of hard work to get there, but surgery is one of medicine’s most demanding and exciting areas. Whether it is saving or improving people’s lives or working on the cutting edge of transplant science as regularly featured on the news, surgery is for many the pinnacle of what medicine can do, and as such attracts the best and brightest doctors-in-training. The rewards for these students should they become surgeons are considerable, with extremely rewarding, high-salaried and secure jobs waiting for them across the world.

If, after your lengthy general medical training you still find yourself wanting to learn more about the more difficult areas of your field, then surgery might be for you. As well as extensive further study, surgeons have to be constantly up to date in an ever-changing field, regularly learning new skills as surgery becomes ever advanced. If all that has been mentioned so far excites you and leaves you wanting to know more, read on as we take you through the process by which you become a surgeon, from initial interest in your undergraduate years to that all-important further postgraduate study.

What undergraduate qualifications are needed?

As will be no surprise, all aspiring surgeons must first complete their basic medical degree over five or six years, as well as at least two years of in-hospital foundation training. Especially within these foundation years, but also whilst studying, positioning yourself towards surgery will be highly advantageous in your later career. Whether this means taking surgical electives whenever you have the chance to do so, or working within a surgical team once you have graduated, is up to you, but essentially the more surgical experience you can collect during your undergraduate years the far better your chances of getting onto a good degree program for further study.

What do I study at postgraduate level?

How to become a surgeon Widely speaking, what to study at postgraduate level if you want to become a surgeon can vary incredibly widely from case to case, depending of which particular areas of surgery you want to specialise in and how much you want to learn about the research methods that will further the field. As such, we will try to outline a few paths that you might wish to take, but anyone with particular interest in certain types of surgery should use our guide as a stepping stone to further research into the options that will be tailored to you.

Whatever route you follow, all surgeons should be heading towards their Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST), which makes them a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and allows them to apply for senior surgical roles. What is essential to gaining this certificate is firstly around two years of core surgical training, followed by up to six years of training within a hospital learning about a surgical speciality. From the beginning of medical school to the acquisition of your CCST, that makes for around 16 years of study. If that prospect fills you with excitement rather than the more usual response of dread, read on: you are definitely the sort of person born to be a surgeon!

Although core surgical and speciality training can be done entirely within a hospital rather than with a university, if you are still reading this you are probably the sort of person who not only wants to be a surgeon, but also someone who wants to help take surgery into new fields and ever more life-saving procedures through intense research. If being a trailblazer in the field sounds appealing, then many of Britain’s best medical schools offers MSc/MS (Master of Surgery) programs that allow you to learn about surgical research methods alongside your surgical training, in courses designed alongside leading hospitals to produce the highest calibre of research-surgeons.

These are undertaken after your first two years of foundation training, and only accept the best candidates, those with exemplary academic results, extensive experience as well as a demonstrable interest in an aspect or area of surgical practice. Some will take them straight after two years of foundation training, but they are also worth considering later on in your route to becoming a surgeon, if a certain area of your surgical practice has really fascinated you and you find yourself with a driving urge to improve the area or procedures through research.

How to become a surgeon

What work experience should I consider?

As we have already mentioned, work experience within a hospital or other medical establishment is essential for anyone wanting to become a surgeon, with at least a decade of it expected to be undertaken before a CCST accreditation is possible. Further to this mandatory medical training, however, candidates who are considering surgical masters or other forms of postgraduate will need to be able to demonstrate an interest in their chosen field of surgery, and additional work experience is a great way to demonstrate this. Many companies and charities offer work experience and volunteer placements for students of surgery to work overseas in war torn or poverty-stricken countries that can be undertaken in the lengthy summer holidays during your study time. As well as piece great ways to gain some major experience in difficult circumstances, helping those so desperately in need will definitely rekindle a love of surgery that the many years of training may slightly knock out of you.

Student case study

Claire, currently taking the MSc in Surgical Science and Practice at Oxford, can remember the exact moment she decided she wanted to be on the cutting-edge of surgical research. “Someone showed me a Youtube video of a musician playing the banjo whilst receiving brain surgery, and at that moment I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of research just like the surgeons in that video”. Claire got accepted onto the masters program after three years of foundation work, and is loving the combination of hands-on training and intensive research, and looks forward to even further study in neurosurgery once she has completed her MSc.


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